Green light for intersection job

Plans for a $3.2 million traffic and pedestrian safety upgrade at the intersection of Seventh, Pike and Greene streets will proceed after four of Marietta’s seven council members said they would support the effort during a streets and transportation committee meeting Tuesday.

Councilmen Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, Harley Noland, D-at large, and Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, said they would vote no on the issue, while council members Steve Thomas, D-3rd Ward, Michael Mullen, I-at large, Denver Abicht, D-at large, and Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward would support the measure.

“I haven’t received any phone calls in favor of this project,” Noland said. “This will basically be an unsignalized intersection, so I’ll be voting against it.”

Kalter said he, too, had not received any comments in favor of the project from his 1st Ward constituents.

“We think it would raise some incredible traffic issues in the Norwood area,” he said. “The positive for this project is it would provide access for pedestrians to cross Pike Street, which is needed. But access onto Greene Street from Seventh for emergency vehicles is a problem for me. And we haven’t heard from law enforcement about this issue.”

Kalter suggested the intersection project be initially completed without eliminating the left turn from Seventh onto Greene, and to revisit that part of the proposed intersection upgrade later.

Council president Walt Brothers expressed support for the project.

“This is probably the most important piece of legislation this council will consider,” Brothers said. “The consultant and engineers have looked at several models and designs, and determined this was the best alternative. But there could still be some tweaking on the project.”

He noted the city wants to build up its infrastructure in preparation for expected growth due to the burgeoning local shale oil and gas industry.

Brothers acknowledged concerns from Norwood residents whose major complaint has been that the new intersection design would eliminate a left turn from Seventh Street onto Greene Street, forcing many to travel a circuitous route along Pike and Acme streets to reach their neighborhoods.

“I have full faith that the people of Norwood will be able to find safe ways to get to their homes,” he added. “But a relatively small number of people will be inconvenienced.”

Abicht, who chairs the streets and transportation committee, agreed, as he cast the deciding vote on the issue Tuesday.

“We’ve had three public open house and informational meetings about this,” he said. “And what worries me is that we’ve already spent more than $300,000 on design engineering for the project, and if we don’t move ahead this will also probably give us a black eye with ( the Ohio Department of Transportation).”

The agency has approved $2.3 million in ODOT Safety Funds for the project, and another $504,150 would come from the Wood, Washington, Wirt Interstate Planning Commission. A local match of $389,637 would be required from the city.

Abicht said he understands Norwood residents’ concerns, but the safety improvements will impact more than just that district.

“As I’ve said before, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few in this case,” he said.

The inability to make a left turn from Seventh onto Greene or a left from Greene into the parking lot of the former Movie Gallery was also of concern for a couple of local businessmen considering the location of a new restaurant in that area.

Grant Wharton and Matt Herridge with Charton Management in Parkersburg said they have options to purchase the property on which the Movie Gallery and adjacent Shedding Shack are located.

“Our goal is to bring 52 new jobs with an investment of up to $4 million,” Wharton said. “We believe this is a great site, but we’re also looking at sites in the Parkersburg area.”

He said if the current left turns remain as part of the proposed intersection project, Wharton and Herridge were “99.9 percent” sure of moving forward with plans to locate the restaurant in Marietta.

“But if the left turns are lost, it would really make us reconsider,” Herridge said, noting the proposed change could not only impact access to the business, but it could cause some safety issues for customers entering or leaving the lot.

City engineer Joe Tucker said one alternative presented to ODOT for the project included leaving the left turn from Seventh to Greene in place, but it would have required a variance from ODOT current regulations regarding sight distance for vehicles in the intersection.

Tucker said the proposal had to be submitted to ODOT’s central office in Columbus where officials determined the left turn could not remain as part of the proposed intersection improvements.

Marietta businessman Bob Kirkbride said the current intersection is simply a product of “bad design.”

“The Marietta Times made a key point in a recent editorial that you need to do what’s right for the city residents,” he said. “We want the smoothest traffic flow we can get. Don’t override the engineers who have studied this and know how to move that traffic safely.”

Tucker said Tuesday’s approval to move ahead with the project would allow him to begin working on final design plans for the intersection with the design consultant and ODOT.